What’s your style when it comes to holiday shopping? Do you wait until Christmas Eve to start buying or do you have everything purchased and wrapped before December? What’s your spending style? If you’re like millions of Americans, you may not worry about the money until the credit card bill hits your mailbox.
What if we told you that with a little bit of planning Christmas spending can be less stressful and more fun? The key to alleviating the strain comes from two sources: Budget and Planning.
First you need to review your finances and determine how much you are able to spend on holiday related expenses. Once you have that amount, it’s time to start making a list.
A great place to start with planning this year’s holiday is to consider how much you spent last year. If you don’t remember or have notes from last year, that’s ok. Just start by making a list of every person you give to and every holiday expense.
Budgeting and planning are the best ways to stay on track during the holidays. Even Santa makes a list and checks it twice!
Be sure to include the name of every person you shop for including your child’s teacher, your pastor or hair stylist. Add to that list other things you buy such as stocking stuffers, holiday meals, baking supplies, gift wrap, postage and shipping, Christmas cards, home décor and Christmas tree, travel expenses, charitable donations and anything else you buy or do that is extra (including post-holiday sales).
Next to each category, set a spending limit. Once you have set a spending limit on each category, add it up to make sure you are within your holiday budget. If not, check that list again to determine whether there are places to save.
Once you have a balanced budget, take a deep breath. You are halfway there!
The next step is to track spending throughout the season. Keep a running total of your purchases. If you go over budget in one category, don’t panic – just look for ways to save someplace else.
What are some practical ways to stay on track and under budget?
- Shop with a list. When it comes to gift giving for your family, it’s a good idea to ask everyone for a wish list. This will give you a place to start and hopefully insure that everyone gets something they really want. At the very least, spend a little time brainstorming gift ideas for each person before you go shopping.
- Be a smart consumer. If your husband requests new Blu-ray player, don’t wait until you’re in the store to think about what to get. Research online, read product descriptions and customer reviews before you say “I’ll take it.”
- Think outside the box, the box store, that is. Consider gifts that don’t come from the mall. That cute little shop downtown may sell handmade scarves or jewelry that would make a unique gift for your mother-in-law. The candle store next door makes relaxation candles that your child’s teacher would love. Small businesses in your community often sell items you can’t find at a large retailer and the small business owner will truly appreciate every dollar you spend with them.
- Start now. Don’t wait until the last minute to start buying. You can take your time researching the right product, cost compare and have a more pleasant buying experience when you’re not pressured to buy.
- Use credit wisely. Many financial experts recommend shopping with cash or debit card to curb any urges to overspend. If you want the rewards points from your credit card or need to delay paying for Christmas until the first of the year, be mindful of every dollar.
- Talk to your family about holiday priorities. Encourage them to focus more on the joy of the holidays – on spending time together decorating the tree, baking cookies and watching holiday movies – rather than on a ton of expensive gifts under the tree.
Finally, be sure to keep a record of your holiday expenses so you have a starting point for next year’s budget.
One other quick tip that could help you for next year is a Christmas Club savings account. At VCNB, you can set the amount you would like to save and we divide that amount into 26 bi-weekly deductions from your checking or savings account. In mid-October, you will receive a check or direct deposit for the amount you saved so you will have cash in hand for next year’s holiday budget.
Visit any of our 13 locations or our website to open a Christmas Club today!